Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Has Bob Ellis Become A Relativist? Or Bad Things Happen If You Trust Brainy Quote But Didn't Listen To Your English Teacher

Stopping by Bob's RSS feed blog yesterday, I noticed a post leading off with this quotation:
“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”—James A. Baldwin
Grad school was a long time ago, but I didn't remember Baldwin as the ideal Ellis conservative. I also remember this quotation as being part of his identity as a person of color in the United States. The entire quotation bears me out:
I don't like people who like me because I'm a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one's own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.
I had forgotten about the bolded sentence, however. Does Bob really believe that situations, "the demands of life," can justify pulverizing one's "finest principles" like, oh I don't know, maybe the Republican Party platform? That certainly would be a news flash to get the South Dakota blogosphere in a whirl.

Let's be clear, I'm not attributing Baldwin's world view and atheism to Ellis, but this incorrect application of a quotation serves as an example. Writers should know who expressed the sentiments they quote and the entire context of the quotation before they use it to prove a point that the original writer never intended.

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